Why Sharing the Gospel is Not Enough

In recent weeks my quiet time of prayer and Bible reading has included an in-depth study of Paul’s 1st and 2nd Letters to the Thessalonians. As Paul writes to the young Christians in that Greek city he makes a curious and profound statement in chapter 2 verse 8, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us”. This verse strikes me as the perfect balance in an ongoing debate over the relationship between evangelism that focuses on speaking and preaching the Gospel and that which focuses on serving people at their point of need.

Why is it that so many of us in the Christian community are unable to hold things in tension and balance. We so quickly go to extremes. We want to make so much of following Jesus into an either or proposition when much of following Jesus is “both/and”. We have been doing that when it comes to preaching the Gospel or living the Gospel and doing so for generations. This is not an either or proposition.

Clearly Paul preached the Gospel. He verbally shared that wherever he went. He lived out what he says in Romans 10:14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” We cannot get caught in the serious error that downplays the necessity of people actually hearing the truth of Jesus. The famous quote attributed to St Francis, “At all times preach the Gospel, when necessary use words”, may have been a great corrective for those who only used words, but to somehow use that to make preaching the words of the Gospel into a last resort tactic, is wrong-headed in the extreme. Paul makes it clear, we must, absolutely must, tell people the Good News that Jesus came and died and rose again so that by trusting and following Him as Lord we can have eternal life. That is non-negotiable.

Yet just as clearly Paul believed it was not enough to only preach the Gospel verbally. He was compelled to share his very self, his life, with the Thessalonians. The way that played out was that Paul served them, loved them, lived with them as a brother. He was open, transparent, and vulnerable. As a result his life became another way to demonstrate the Gospel. When that life was coupled with the preached Word, then you had a powerful testimony to Jesus Christ.

It shouldn’t be at all surprising that our message is to come in the form of BOTH the spoken, preached Word, AND the shared life of Christ followers. The is exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t send a message from on high, a voice coming out of the clouds, with the truth of trusting in Him. He actually came into the world and shared in our lives. It is what the incarnation is all about. Jesus came into the world and took on flesh, He lived among us, shared our joys, griefs, temptations, and victories. He became like us in all things with the exception of succumbing to sin. Jesus lived a both/and life. He spoke the Gospel and He shared His life.

For some of us the speaking part is easy, the sharing life is hard. For others the sharing life is easy but the speaking part is hard. Let me propose that followers of Christ embrace both in their lives. We must, absolutely must develop a culture in which we both speak the truths of the Gospel, hard as they may be, and share our lives with those around us, both those following Jesus already and those not yet, as hard as that may be.

The result of people like Paul sharing their very lives and speaking the truth of the Gospel was that the early church became of community of people who did the same. As they did so, others on the outside of the community wanted to be included on the inside. Some wanted in because they resonated with the preached word. Others wanted in because they resonated with the love they received. Some wanted in for both.

Are you more a speaker than a life sharer? Is it the other way around? What do you need to do to become better and speaking the Gospel? What do you need to do to become better at sharing the Gospel through sharing your very life?

Three Must Have Relationships in Your Life. (Pt 2 of 3)

His name was Joseph. Yet everyone called him Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement”. That name became such a part of his identity that today few people remember that his given name was Joseph and we refer to him only as Barnabas. So how did Joseph become Barnabas for the rest of history? There are two events in the Bible that stand out. The first comes in Acts Chapter 4:32-37. In the early church Barnabas is noted as one of the people who gave a large sum of money in order to insure that the poor were feed and had their needs met. That act of sacrifice was a huge encouragement to the first generation of Christians.

Later in Acts 11:19-26 we find Barnabas seeking out a young convert to Christianity and including him in the leadership of the new church at Antioch. That convert was the Pharisee named Saul, who we come to know as The Apostle Paul. In an incredible irony, that is only possible in a faith in which love and forgiveness are core values, Paul ends up leading a church that was begun by refugees who fled the persecution that he instigated before he came to faith in Christ. Imagine the kind of person Barnabas had to be that he insisted on reaching out and including the very guy who started the persecution that resulted in torture and even death for some followers of Jesus. Paul had already been rejected by the leaders in Jerusalem after his conversion. They didn’t trust him. They basically said, “great to know you are not killing us any more. We will call if we need anything”. So Paul ends up hundreds of miles away doing next to nothing for the expansion of Christianity, until Barnabas, The Son of Encouragement” takes a journey to find him and include him in the leadership of the Church at Antioch.

So what can we learn about being an encourager when we look at Barnabas? For one, he was willing to sacrifice for the sake of others so that they would be built up, strengthened, encouraged. He was willing to sacrifice financial resources so that people in need could have hope. He was willing to sacrifice his reputation when he brought in Paul for leadership. In both cases Barnabas thought more about the needs of someone else than he did about his own. But it wasn’t only the needs of the one he encouraged that he thought about. In bringing Paul into a leadership role, Barnabas was also thinking about the people Paul would impact with his ministry. He saw a gifting in Paul that needed to be encouraged to the surface in order to help others.

An encourager sees the positive impact another person does make, and can make, and comes alongside them to help it happen. What Barnabas did was come along side people to empower them, when nobody else would. That is what an encourager does. Far too many people are willing to point out the negative, where people are lacking, what can go wrong. Barnabas looked for what could go right and did what he could to make that happen.

Encouragers don’t care if someone else gets the limelight and credit. I think one reason why we don’t encourage one another more is that we are self-centered and worry that there is only so much credit and encouragement to go around. So in order to rise up above other people, we put them down or at the very least, withhold encouragement that might give them the strength they need to succeed. We see the opposite in Barnabas. He didn’t care if someone else received recognition and credit. In fact he seems to have been very happy when the one he encouraged had success. Very quickly in his relationship with Paul, he takes second place. Paul moves to the forefront as spokesman and leader. Lesser people would have been jealous, not Barnabas. An encourager does not worry about that. In fact an encourager finds delight in the success of those they encourage.

I have got to believe that over time, Barnabas rubbed off on Paul. Paul who was so encouraged by Barnabas, eventually became committed to a ministry of encouragement. Just one example comes from First Thessalonians 5:11-14 where Paul writes;

11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

How different might your life be if you had someone who encouraged you instead of discouraged you, built you up instead of tore you down, respected you instead of denigrated you? We all need people like that in our life. But we also need to be that person to others. If you are around people who are encouragers, it will rub off on you like it did with Paul. I learned this from a wonderful guy I meet as part of the coaching staff at North Allegheny High School in Pittsburgh. His name was John Ross. John was the quarterback coach on that team and he was the consumate encourager. He always had positive feedback for players and friends. That does not mean he didn’t correct errors. Any coach has to do that. But he did it in a way that you knew he was on your side. John was quick to point out to other people how great someone was. I remember the first time one of my young sons met John. One of the first things he did was tell my son how lucky he was to have such a great dad. That is an encourager. What did it do for me? For one thing it motivated me to be an even better dad. Far from making people rest on their laurels, encouragement does the opposite. It gives people the motivation to live up to the words of encouragement and do even better.

Here is another thing I have learned about encouragers. When you give out encouragement to others it has a funny way of coming back to you. If you are always negative, the attitude that comes back to you will be negative. But if you encourage others, come along side them and build them up, you quickly find yourself in an environment of encouragement and others will encourage you. You will be paid back in kind. Dish out negativity and you will be paid back in negativity. Hand out praise and encouragement and you will find yourself rich in encouragement.

A very practical first step is this, look for someone who could use some praise, some encouragement, some positive reinforcement and give it to them. It could be as simple as telling someone how much their friendship means to you. It could be telling someone at work what a great job they did on a project, or what a wonderful idea they had. Find a character trait in someone that you admire and let them know you wish you could be as good at that as they are. The point is, build up people, encourage them. When you do that consistently, you will find that your life becomes filled with people who act as Barnabas in your life and encourage you.

Easter: The Most Important Day in History

Historians love to speculate on the what ifs of major historical events. What if Oswald had missed in November of 1963 in Dealy Plaza? What if Von Stauffenberg had armed both bombs and placed them on the other side of the table leg in Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair? What if Richard the Lionheart had lived to return to England and kept his brother John off the throne? What if attempts on Mohammed’s life in Mecca had succeeded? One can go on for days thinking of such things and it can be an interesting academic exercise. But of all the interesting speculation there is one event that stands out as the most important event in all of history. It is the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, in the early half of the 1st Century, on what we now call Easter Sunday. Now that the latest celebration of Easter is a day in the past, let’s consider the implications of this most historic event.

On that Sunday morning, a handful of Jesus followers went to the tomb in which his body had been placed following his crucifixion for blasphemy, claiming to be God, on Friday. They went fully expecting to find his lifeless body wrapped in the sheet it was carried in. Their intent was to finish the proper burial preparations that were left undone as he was hastily buried. What they found instead was an empty tomb and two angelic messengers proclaiming “why do you seek the living among the dead. He is not here. He is risen”. We read about it in among others places, Luke 24 verses 1-7. The subsequent appearances by Jesus to more than 500 people, including the forever nicknamed “Doubting” Thomas, who then fell on his knees and declared of Jesus, “my Lord and my God”, turned what had been seen as a fatal defeat into the most remarkable, stunning, and controversial turn of events in history.

There are at least three reasons why the Resurrection of Jesus makes Easter the most important day in all of human history. First there is what The Apostle Paul has to say about it in 1 Corinthians 15, if Jesus had not been raised from the dead then the Christian faith and all we believe about it is a huge waste of time, effort, and devotion. Not only that but we are to be pitied for believing in something that is only of benefit for this life, and in fact makes this life harder to live. Worse yet, it makes us liars about God claiming He did something that clearly He did not. In other words, Paul is saying that without the Resurrection of Jesus there is no such thing as the Christian faith. No one would be following Jesus if He was still dead and in the grave. Those people who went to the tomb that morning had already resigned themselves to the fact of his death. They went not looking for a Risen Savior but looking to honor in death one that they loved. If Jesus had not risen, Peter would have eventually gone back to his fishing nets, Matthew would have reopened his tax office, Mary Magdalene would have slipped into depression and back to her former lifestyle. Saul of Tarsus would have continued his Pharisaic studies and never encountered the Risen Jesus on the Road to Damascus, thus robbing the world of the man who would become known as Paul, and the third most influential person in history behind Jesus and Mohammed. Europe, North Africa, and the Near East never get evangelized. You could even make the case the Mohammed remains a polytheistic herder in Saudi Arabia and Islam never happens. The list goes on so far and deep, it becomes impossible to speculate on how the world evolves if Jesus was never risen.

But that is only what the resurrection means for history and world events. There is a second reason why Easter is the most important day in history. If in fact Jesus was risen from the dead, it validates his claim to deity. Historians, scientists, and the average Joe and Jane all agree, zombie movies aside, that people simply do not come back from the dead after being buried in a tomb for three days. The uniqueness of the resurrection points to Jesus as actually being who he claimed to be. Those angelic messengers reminded the women at the tomb that Jesus had spoken of this ahead of time. They and the rest of the followers had either misunderstood or simply shrugged it off as hyperbole. Now they were forced into an understanding of Jesus that was far beyond what they every hoped or imagined. Jesus of Nazareth was also, Lord and Christ, Only Begotten of the Father, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He was God in the Flesh. Mysteriously Fully God and Fully Man. His subsequent ascension to the Right Hand of the Father has Him seated in Glory from where He will come again.

The third and final reason for the resurrection being the most important event in history has nothing to do with the grand sweep of world events. Rather it has everything to do with your life. If in fact Jesus is raised from the dead then what does that change about your future? Will you follow him and put your life on a new course? Or will you simply allow the resurrection to remain this unexamined religious oddity, locking it away in a compartment in your mind, not letting it interfere with life today? Not only does history change completely if the resurrection never happened, but so does your future if you chose to believe it.